Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Focus on Women Please--An Update on the Activision Focus Group

So on Sunday I had the privilege of attending a focus group on X-men Legends. I didn't want to go without 100littledolls, but she said I should go in her place. So I tried my best to represent.

My dream for years has been to tell the video game industry how I feel on a number of subjects, and here was my chance. The group consisted of about 7 guys in their 20s and 30s--all but one white. Good start huh? I was all fired up and angry at the fact that I had to go alone, and was ready to throw down some feminism right at their faces. When the questions started though, I calmed down a bit, but made sure to let them know that I really cared about the social messages of their product. They started out asking general questions: what's your favorite game, why do you like the X-men, ect. I tried to relay the point of how cool it is that the X-men are on the fringe of society, and that the basis of the comic is them fighting for their place in the world. They asked about characters within the game, and I pointed out how the X-men already have a diverse cast, and many strong, well established women characters. Raven doesn't need to do anything but put them in the game. I feel the first game had much better character choices, (why would I want to play as Toad?) and a larger amount of female mutants. Personally I would love to see Kitty Pride in a game, Raven studios is such a jerk for not putting her in.

After giving them a well thought out pitch for my own game, they started to pass out descriptions of possible game ideas that were actually being considered for production. They wanted our feelings on them, and let me tell you, most of them were terrible. The funniest and saddest was an X-men World War II game, where in an alternate universe, get this, Hitler won, so therefore communism?! Ruled the World, and Magneto somehow reigned as the supreme overlord. As Cable you would go back in time and kill Nazis with bullet time moves like in a Max Payne type shooter. What? So much of that doesn't make sense. The highlight of the afternoon, however, was the description of X-Men Femme Force. In this concept, Mystique releases a virus that affects all the male X-men leaving only the women left to stop her. Kind of a corny story, but having an all female mutant cast would be pretty cool. I read on though, and discovered a main part of the game would be to "dress up" your characters in different outfits, then it made a reference to DOA and claimed that the game would be just as sexy. Ouch. Costume changes are great, but the X-women aren't dolls, they're freedom fighters. To my surprise, I wasn't the first person to speak up. Two other people in the group informed everyone that their girlfriends were gamers and played the first two Legends along with them. They said that they were extremely disappointed that they couldn't come to the focus group. I also spoke up and related 100littledolls' plight. We agreed that we would play a game with an all woman cast. I then pleaded with them to not objectify these characters--I told them that it would be unnecessary and offensive.

As we were leaving, I heard the two guys in charge of the focus group talking to each other. They were surprised with the responses they were getting concerning women and games: "Wow, we really need to do a women's focus group..." F-ing Duh! But it's a start I guess. Overall, I tried to use this opportunity to also log my complaint of lack of originality in video games. Many of the game ideas presented to us were just rehashes of other popular games: Mercenaries with Wolverine, or Dynasty Warriors with X-men. Personally, if I wanted to play a game like Mercenaries, why wouldn't I just play Mercenaries, or Mercenaries II, whenever that comes out? The main issue with superhero games is that they have never established their own genre, or niche. They have always just hopped on board to a preexisting series of games. The focus should not be to make a copy of a existing game, but to define what superhero games are and create a place for them in the industry. Take a risk! More often than not, it will pay off. Just look at Nintendo.

15 comments:

100LittleDolls said...

Ha, you finally posted! Thank you. And yes, Kitty Pryde is the coolest.

Dan Coyle said...

I have to admit, Mercenaries w/Wolverine sounds kinda cool. Or Deadpool, since he actually IS a mercenary...

Shions_Glasses said...

ok ok, I'll give ya deadpool, I'ld play that game, but how bout this: Metel Gear Kitty, a stealth game staring everyones favorite sprite, you could phase through people and walls and such by tapping a button real fast, more dense the substance, the faster the tap.

Anonymous said...

Some company (I guess Sega) developed but never released Genesis X-Women game some 10 years ago. I think it also had to do with all the male characters being taken out by a virus or something or other.

Jacob Saenz said...

Good job, Shions_Glasses. At least now the company is aware (or more aware) of how interested women are in these type of discussions.
As far as game idea goes, maybe they should create a game that uses Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic as a model. You start out by creating your own mutant and as you develop, you encounter members of the X-Men as well as Magneto's clan that tempt you on a good or evil path. Needless to say, the fate of the world and humankind depends on your decisions.

100LittleDolls said...

It would be interesting to see the character designs for the Sega game. I think that would have been my favorite game ever.

Shion--I'm interested as to what idea you pitched to the focus group guys.

Shions_Glasses said...

Umm, that KOTAR X-men game would be great! My idea that I pitched envolved you taking more of the role of Xavier, and focus on fighting for mutant rights. So you would have to manage the school, create class schedules to train your team, ect. Then you would have, cerebro, or a world map that would detect hotspots that would come up in the world. (Riot in New York, Murder of mutant in Russia, super villian attacking a city) and it would be up to you to choose what is the most important to send your team on, and balance who to send, depending on what you choose, it will affect other missions, leave one hotspot alone for too long and something terrible happens. Then depending on how you act within a missions the world's view on mutants will change. You'll have a rating and NPCs will react to it, run from you, gain up try to hurt you, cuss you out, or cheer for you, give you items. I pictured the missions being actions oriented like Legends, or something. I just thought it would be cool to have a game that centers on the mutant "issue" around the world, and protecting the people that hate them, the reasons why the X-men where created in the first place.

Shions_Glasses said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Shions_Glasses said...

I meant to say KOTOR. (how embarrassing)

Citizen Chimp said...

So like mutant X-Com, then?

Lake Desire said...

http://www.archive.org/details/012193

A little bit more on the X-Women game that was never released. Pity they'd put all that work into it and not release it.

Guilded Lily said...

It is so difficult for me to understand how anyone with access to the entire X-Men mythos would have difficulty coming up with a good plot line. The stories are there already, in abundance! Focus groups are a frightening way to develop a game story - if they don't have a solid premise for the game, why bother making one? It sounds like another case of a design company hoping to make money on the external popularity of the license, instead of taking the time to do the work of creating a game people will actually want to play. If this type of focus group reflects a standard practice among game design companies then it explains a lot about the sorry state of most games being made. Nice report, thanks!

Shions_Glasses said...

I totally agree. I was pretty upset at the whole affair, And I tried to emphasize how much I hate it when game developers just slap together a licenced game. The feeling that I couldn't shake was that the company was trying to play catch up to what people view as "cool." And of course they then ask the same type of people (middle class white dudes) the same questions, just to get the standered responses. They're researching the status quo. Maybe I'm just being naive, but I tend to think of video games as an art form, and I guess I assume that game developers should have some sort of vision that they want to share with the world.

Marionette said...

I'm guessing that the whole "dress up dolls" aspect of the game was an attempt to emulate the popularity of the costume creator of City of Heroes/Villains, which I gather has been one of the stand-out successes of that superhero game.

JessN said...

"Maybe we should do a woman's focus group..." Oh dear, behind the times. Actually, I'm not really surprised by this. For some reason, there is this lack of understanding about women in gaming and comics. They think we aren't interested, and the only way to interest us involves clothing, and hair.

If I play a superhero game, it's because I want to go out and kick bad guy butt.

But of course, no one is asking, right?

Maybe you should start your own game company dedicated to this cause.

Oh, yeah...Kitty Pryde really does rock. She always has!